Becky Lodge Founder of Little Kanga Ltd and StartUp Disruptors (a business club and community for start-ups and small business owners) interviews Ewa Fraczak, florist and floral artist, and owner of Blossom Boutique on Osborne Road in Southsea. This is the first article in a new series exploring the impact of Covid-19 on local businesses and start-ups in Portsmouth.
On September 13th 2020, Ewa will celebrate her third business birthday, as part of the ‘StartUp Disruptors’ business club and community. To celebrate, she is moving to new, larger premises in Palmerston Road in Southsea.
Becky Lodge: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
Ewa: I love flowers and I have always been in love with flowers from a young age. I have been a florist now for the past sixteen years. I’m Polish and started learning my trade as a florist in Poland in Warsaw. I was studying at the time but unfortunately couldn’t finish the course. I then briefly moved to Ireland to work for a couple of years and returned home once more. I was employed as a florist, creating flowers and floral displays for Polish TV and events. During this time, I dreamed of having my own florist shop.
I later moved to Southsea (and had my second child) and was employed by a local florist but I really wanted to set up on my own. It was a big step to move to the UK, my first son was 18 months old when I left Poland to start the process of re-location to the UK and I had to leave my young son with family for 2 months to set up home in the UK (in Southsea).
It was tough.
Why did you choose floristry for your business in the UK?
In Warsaw the floristry is ‘high end’ and luxurious with a strong European style. The quality and the whole experience is key and I want to stay true to reproducing the details and quality of the floral arrangements. When I was looking for a job in the UK (before starting my business), it was hard to find florists to employ me that understood my skills and style of floristry. But my first UK floristry employer was very supportive and gave me leeway to try what I wanted to do.
This gave me confidence to continue.
I had a vision for over sixteen years of what I wanted to create (my own shop) and after sixteen years of dreaming, it became a reality in 2017, I opened my own florist shop in Southsea.
What have been the challenges for you as a single mother and as a female business owner?
Being a single mother and a business owner is very challenging and as a single mum to two boys (aged 9 and 4) we went through ‘hard times’ and there were times I felt that I was taking my time away from them as I was growing the business. As a mother this is always a challenge.
I am constantly working to find ways to help integrate them into my business (and it’s definitely a family business!). I involve the boys in any way that I can. From placing stickers on the flower boxes to helping sweep the shop floor, I want them to know that flowers and plants are for everybody and for them to enjoy being part of it.
How did you feel about the COVID 19 pandemic?
It was scary at the start, but it gave me back some family time and I could spend more time with the boys. Lots of weddings and big events were cancelled and this had an impact on the business and I wasn’t sure that I was going to survive it. I had to change the business and worked quite hard to understand what people were looking for during this time.
My customer ordering processes had to change; and this was all online and each sale was much smaller, but there were more of them and I was able to get some support from the government COVID scheme to help me financially. My floral wholesalers had shut and couldn’t get the supply of flowers for the shop; 3 weeks and there were no flowers available and just before Easter, the suppliers started to open up and supply once again.
A friend was helping me out with the deliveries and I had to make the amendments and adhere to social distancing regulations on delivering to customers locally through a local driver, rather than having the shop open, but I still had to pay the rent on the shop. Social media was key, orders through Facebook and Instagram increased and my social media feeds got busy with messages from customers.
People wanted to do something for their loved ones, as everyone was feeling unsafe.
‘Mum I miss you’ and ‘I really want to see you soon’ were common messages people were requesting on the cards to go with the flowers. After the flowers were delivered it made people feel safe, people contacted me to say that they provided hope and happiness to them at a difficult time, when they could not see their family. People started to see what was important in their lives. It was always taken for granted that you would see your mother for example and that was taken away.
Plant sales increased a lot, as they help with mood and also with oxygen and ‘clean’ the indoor environment. Jasmine as a plant is helpful for anxiety and I supplied these in different sizes. I supplied everything from greenhouse plants, to seasonal mixtures. Because people were spending so much time on computers and inside, word of mouth increased, and I started delivering to Southampton, Gosport, Fareham and surrounding areas.
The inside world started to matter more to people and flowers and plants are a big part of everyone’s home.
What helped you as a small business during COVID lockdown?
The ‘Shop Local’ advertising has really helped, lots of new customers have changed to using a small, local independent shop and support the businesses in the local area.
‘We can’t lose you!’ they would say and they all needed and wanted my flowers and plants.
People want a personal service and people feel safer in a smaller shop, where they can speak to the owner directly. People are realising that local businesses are at risk and local people in Portsmouth and the wider Hampshire area want to support local businesses.
Being part of a business community both as a shop owner and online with a community like StartUp Disruptors is key. Customers can come from referrals and that can be online or face to face.
What do you think will happen in the next 6 months with your business?
Coming up to Christmas, people will be spending more on the appearance of their homes, including floral decorations. We are offering more workshops for people to learn to build their own floral and Christmas displays, you want to do something nice together and this has re-focused people’s priorities.
I am also concentrating on expanding the business and moving to a new, larger shop.
What’s the next move then both for you and the business?
I am moving the shop to 99 Palmerston Road, Southsea, a great building with more space and the ability to decorate the external part of the building with outdoor floral decorations.
I am also wishing to grow the business and employ people to help me cover the busier periods of the year. There is a strong chance that I can create some flexible part-time job roles for parents that may want a job and have an interest in floristry too. So, if there’s anyone reading this that would be interested in that, please get in touch!
How have you found having a business in Southsea?
Southsea is lovely and I have met so many great business owners on Osborne Road and they are all very supportive and buy their flowers from me, so we are supporting one another, as I buy from them too.
We work collaboratively on weddings and other events for customers as well, which is great.
Were there any periods in the last few years that were challenging for the business?
I had a period when things were really bad due to Brexit. People just stopped spending on everything and all of the local small businesses commented on it. I was scared that I couldn’t work my way through it at that time.
At the very start of having a business, I was just interested in ‘making pretty things’ and thought that people would just buy them, but this wasn’t the case. I realised that I needed to think more about the business elements and the business part is what you need to learn and is completely different to making the thing you love.
You need to get people’s attention and be great with people. You have to learn quickly who to trust and who will help you and who won’t help you. Word of mouth and reputation and having a plan is more important. Learning to say no is really important and to focus on what is needed to make a living and a business, as well as make a life.
You can find out more about Ewa and her awesome creations, by following Blossom Boutique on Instagram and Facebook, visit her shop on Osborne Road in Southsea, or call 023 9283 1333. After 13th September 2020, you will find the Blossom Boutique shop at 99 Palmerston Road, Southsea, Hampshire.
Ewa is a member of StartUp Disruptors. You can find out more about StartUp Disruptors and how to join them, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and you can follow Becky Lodge over at LinkedIn. You can also telephone: 0333 444 0364 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.